Giro d'Italia
Photo: Dan Cavallari | VeloNews.com

Chasing the Giro: A ride in Bora’s TT team car

We take a ride in the Bora-Hansgrohe team car for a first-hand experience of Davide Formolo's time trial race at the Giro d'Italia.

ROVERETO, Italy (VN) — Bicycle racing has a sound — or more accurately, a cacophony of sounds. We know them well: rabid tifosi, fervent announcers, the grit and grind of gears slamming into place, and wind rushing past ears. Rain splashing, helicopters circling overhead.

I took a ride in a Bora-Hansgrohe team car for stage 16 of the Giro d’Italia and discovered an entirely new cycling sound, one I hadn’t heard before: silence, interspersed only with the calm voices of the DS sitting shotgun. It was not a contemplative sound; it was wracked with tension, with the knowledge that word economy could mean the difference between finishing first and finishing fifth. Instructions, brief. Encouragement, stunted but firm. Then quiet. Mostly just quiet. Silence was as much a component of the time trial as the derailleurs or the aerodynamic helmet.

Of course, there were screaming fans. Of course, there was the sound of the wind rushing past the car. But these largely disappeared behind closed windows, deep within the mobile nucleus. Quiet, then the beep of the radio. “You have a left turn coming up. Stay right in the road.” Quiet, then the beep of the radio. “A small rise. Stay in the extensions.” Quiet, then the beep of the radio. “You are doing well. Keep your cadence high.”

It was Davide Formolo out on course, his elegantly curved back swaying and twisting, snakelike in its stealthy, subtle motions. Deceptively large thighs pumping startlingly lean calves, pushing precision-tuned components and carbon fibers beneath. It’s easy to romanticize Italy, so why not say the obvious: His ride rose and fell like an aria, stunning and fraught with tension delivered and controlled with iron nerves built from years of competing against other masters. If boxing matches were this quiet, it might strike us as a dance of brutes rather than a mere collision of fists.

Davide Formolo
Davide Formolo warms up before the Stage 16 time trial at the 2018 Giro d’Italia. Photo: Dan Cavallari | VeloNews.com
Davide Formolo
Like most riders, Formolo likes to tune out while he warms up. Given the crowds, music, and general commotion, that’s not too surprising. Photo: Dan Cavallari | VeloNews.com
Davide Formolo
Photo: Dan Cavallari | VeloNews.com
Davide Formolo
Photo: Dan Cavallari | VeloNews.com
Bora Hansgrohe team car
Each rider gets a follow car. A sport director, driver, and mechanic as usually on hand within the car to cover any contingencies. Photo: Dan Cavallari | VeloNews.com
Bora Hansgrohe tool box
Within the car, you’ll generally find a tool box, spare wheel, and plenty of water. Photo: Dan Cavallari | VeloNews.com
Bora Hansgrohe tools
This tool box belongs to one of the team mechanics, but he wasn’t in the car. His spot was taken up by a VeloNews journalist instead. Photo: Dan Cavallari | VeloNews.com
Davide Formolo
Riders wend their way through the crowds and sinuous streets of Italian villages to reach the starting house. Formolo sits and waits his turn. Photo: Dan Cavallari | VeloNews.com
Sergio Henao
Photo: Dan Cavallari | VeloNews.com (FILE)
Davide Formolo
Formolo is off. Fans line the streets all the way out of town. Photo: Dan Cavallari | VeloNews.com
Davide Formolo
Photo: Dan Cavallari | VeloNews.com
Davide Formolo
Before long, the tifosi mostly disappear. It’s just Formolo, the team car, and a lead-out motorcycle. Photo: Dan Cavallari | VeloNews.com
Davide Formolo
The weather threatens, but nothing more than a few rain drops fall.Photo: Dan Cavallari | VeloNews.com
Davide Formolo
Photo: Dan Cavallari | VeloNews.com
Davide Formolo
From the back seat, Formolo’s movement looks incredibly smooth. His technique seems effortless, though judging by the speeds, he’s clearly working hard. Photo: Dan Cavallari | VeloNews.com
Italy
Photo: Dan Cavallari | VeloNews.com
France in Italy
Europe is big, but not really big. All countries have their eyes on the race, and it’s not too difficult for fans from nearby countries to come cheer on their favorite riders. Photo: Dan Cavallari | VeloNews.com
Davide Formolo
Photo: Dan Cavallari | VeloNews.com
Davide Formolo
Photo: Dan Cavallari | VeloNews.com
Davide Formolo
Photo: Dan Cavallari | VeloNews.com
Sergio Henao
About halfway through the course, Formolo approaches Sergio Henao and passes him. Photo: Dan Cavallari | VeloNews.com
Sergio Henao
For several minutes the Bora-Hansgrohe car drives behind Henao. Formolo pulls further up the road. Photo: Dan Cavallari | VeloNews.com
Sergio Henao
Formolo is nearly out of sight now. Henao has lost several seconds to him. Photo: Dan Cavallari | VeloNews.com
Sergio Henao
Still, Henao attacks corners aggressively and pops out of them with speed. Photo: Dan Cavallari | VeloNews.com
Sergio Henao
Photo: Dan Cavallari | VeloNews.com
Sergio Henao
Finally, Henao is in the rearview mirror. Photo: Dan Cavallari | VeloNews.com
Bora Hansgrohe
A sport director gives Formolo instructions. “Stay to the right in this corner.” Or, “Keep your cadence high. Stay in the extensions.” Photo: Dan Cavallari | VeloNews.com
Davide Formolo
Photo: Dan Cavallari | VeloNews.com
Davide Formolo
Photo: Dan Cavallari | VeloNews.com
Davide Formolo
Photo: Dan Cavallari | VeloNews.com
Davide Formolo
Photo: Dan Cavallari | VeloNews.com
Davide Formolo
Photo: Dan Cavallari | VeloNews.com
Davide Formolo
Photo: Dan Cavallari | VeloNews.com
Davide Formolo
Photo: Dan Cavallari | VeloNews.com
Davide Formolo
After sweeping through largely empty roads that wind through hills and vineyards, Formolo approaches the final kilometers. The tifosi reappear. Photo: Dan Cavallari | VeloNews.com
Davide Formolo
We’re nearing the finish. Formolo looks strong. At this point it’s unclear where he’ll land in the final results. It’s impossible to believe, given his form and speed, that he won’t at least come close to winning. Alas, there are time trial specialists yet to come, and while Formolo’s performance is respectable, it lands him in 22nd place on the day. Photo: Dan Cavallari | VeloNews.com
Davide Formolo
Our last glimpse of Formolo comes shortly after the final corner into the straightaway. The team car peels off to the left, heading down toward the parking lot where team vans wait for riders coming off the course. By the time we get in, Formolo is already there; he has ridden past the finish and through the city streets, fans shouting after him. He’s sitting in the van, joking with team staff and fans who have gathered to greet him. Photo: Dan Cavallari | VeloNews.com

When I shift in my seat and lean slightly out the window to snap a photo, it elicits a sideways glance from the driver. I have disrupted the silence. Perhaps I cost the rider a valuable quarter of a second. Probably not, but deep in the nucleus, you don’t take those chances. It would not take an earthquake to lose everything in a time trial. I am careful to be quieter for the rest of the ride.

Slowing in corners allows me to catch bits and pieces of shouted conversations. Most of them are some iteration on, “Formolo! Forza Formolo!” This is his country. He was born only a few kilometers from here, in Italy’s mountainous north. These are his fans. Some of the conversations are conducted with slight surprise: Was that Formolo? He was going so fast! It was the Bora colors, but was that him? It’s hard to tell when those colors blur past at almost 60kph. But just in case it is him, the fans go wild when Formolo passes Sergio Henao just before a small rise and then disappears on the other side.

Despite the voice in his ear, Formolo rides alone. It is his own silence. Another tool he uses for propulsion. To the fans on the side of the road and to the men watching from the car behind, the speeds feel astounding. Every corner brings out a mothering instinct: Slow down or you’ll fall! But he does not. This aria, crafted well before the moment the notes hit us, has not yet run its course and none of its rises and falls are accidental.

The team car peels off a couple hundred meters before the finish line, so we do not see Formolo finish. We are left to listen on the radio to hear his time. It’s a good time, not great. Impossibly, despite his elegance and speed, and the immensity of the silence, his effort is only good enough for 22nd place today. Perhaps the others have honed a more perfect quiet in the hills of northern Italy. It doesn’t matter; Formolo has finished his song and now he can breathe.

At the team van he spins out his legs, chats with tifosi. He smiles and laughs. These noises come easily to Formolo, and his magnetism invites more jokes, more laughing. It’s just a bike race, and tomorrow there will be another one. But for 43 silent minutes, we heard a new sound. It was the sound of power.